State Farm granted waiver to conduct UAS operations over people and BVLOS in areas effected by Hurricane Florence

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State Farm has been granted a waiver for UAS operations that will be the first of its kind for an insurance company, and will allow it to assess damage in communities effected by Hurricane Florence.

The FAA has granted State Farm a waiver that combines permissions to conduct UAS flights over people and flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight. Both of these operations are usually tightly restricted.  

These provisions are approved over four states impacted by Hurricane Florence. Together, they will “dramatically enhance State Farm’s ability to evaluate hurricane damage and allocate resources,” the insurance company says.

“State Farm needs to quickly assess damage after significant weather events,” says Robert Yi, Senior Vice President – State Farm.

“Drone technology provides us with the capability to quickly deploy over a catastrophe site and assess damage from the air. The data we obtain from drone flights can be used to help us determine the severity of damage. This also allows us to place our Claims team on-the-ground and evaluate uninhabitable insured property.”

After significant weather events such as Hurricane Florence, obtaining access to an area could be more difficult because of water, debris, and damage to infrastructure. Damage may also extend across a large area, which makes efficient damage assessment especially hard.

Taking all of this into account, State Farm says that the new waiver will make its work “much easier by allowing longer-distance flights over densely populated areas.”

Recently, State Farm has been working with the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) under the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, after the Virginia-based research team was named one of the program's awardees back in May.

The entities say that their successful application for this unprecedented waiver is a “testament to the program’s success in facilitating rapid, research-based advances in drone operations to serve communities’ needs.”

“This is a pivotal moment that demonstrates the value of a risk-based safety case development process,” says MAAP director Mark Blanks.

“Drone technology has tremendous potential to serve the public, but before we can harness that capability we need to demonstrate conclusively that ambitious operations can be done safely. This waiver, and the volume of research that backs it up, shows that this approach works.”

senseFly’s eBee fixed-wing UAS will be used to perform these flights. State Farm and MAAP say that the eBee UAS reduces the risk of damage to people and property. The eBee UAS also captures high-resolution imagery.

Below: Thomas Jones, a program manager with the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, launches a lightweight drone during tests with IPP partner State Farm; the insurance giant is exploring how drones might facilitate damage assessment after natural disasters. Photo: Virginia Tech